Response to “The Flack Over Flacks”

I normally enjoy CBS Sunday Morning. At 24, I know that I’m not the target audience for the show, my parents and grandparents fit that bill, but I still find something intriguing about watching and listening to Charles Osgood and the correspondents give deeper insights into a moment in American history or an event that will soon become American history. Unfortunately, this past Sunday morning, the peaceful time I spend with my breakfast on my couch was disrupted by Andrew Cohen’s essay “The Flack Over Flacks,” in which the CBS News Legal Analyst spoke about Scott McClellan’s new book, What Happened.

At first, I agreed with Mr. Cohen’s analysis. There is certainly “nothing funny” about the revelation that Scott McClellan lied about vital policy decisions within the White House. However, his essay continued with:

“But in every tragic drama comes a moment of comedic Zen. And in L’Affair McClellan, that has come from the public relations community, where some now wonder whether the former flack violated the ‘ethics’ of his craft.

Apparently, an industry the very essence of which is to try to convince people that a turkey is really an eagle has a rule that condemns lying.”

Even after doing his research and quoting the PRSA’s Code of Ethics, he goes on to say:

“The reason companies or governments hire oodles of PR people is because PR people are trained to be slickly untruthful or half-truthful. Misinformation and disinformation are the coin of the realm…”

Admittedly, there are a few bad apples in the PR business — which can be said about any profession. But, for Cohen to blanket a profession in which the majority of practitioners are truthful and strive to provide their audiences with accurate information is poor form. As a proud, honest member of the PR profession, I know that my colleagues do their best to present accurate information about the companies or clients they represent — when asked to do otherwise, the answer is an emphatic “No.” PR professionals must maintain their integrity since it is a vital resource when contacting reporters to secure media coverage, working with vendors for a special event, speaking with community leaders to gain their support or any of the other activities we do every day.

“Show me a PR person who is ‘accurate’ and ‘truthful,’ and I’ll show you a PR person who is unemployed,” writes Mr. Cohen. Well, I can name at least eight — my colleagues at c21.

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